Tag Archive for: Melbourne Cup

Dream Melbourne Cup success for McDonald and Verry Elleegant

Jockey James McDonald realised his Lexus Melbourne Cup dream as Verry Elleegant sprinted away from the field to claim the Flemington showpiece.

The Chris Waller-trained mare added a 10th Group One win to her record as she saw off hot favourite Incentivise by four lengths in the two-mile feature on Tuesday – a victory McDonald believes cements Verry Elleegant’s top rank status.

The rider was originally booked to ride British-trained runner Away He Goes before an injury ruled him out last week and McDonald described his win as a “fairytale”.

He told www.racing.com: “It means everything. It’s the one race I’ve dreamed of riding in and of winning.

“That’s how you want to win a Melbourne Cup.

“I couldn’t believe the position I got first time out of the straight, she was so relaxed and she never touched the bridle until I gave her a kick at the 600-metre mark and she sucked up.

“I could see the favourite (Incentivise) getting shoved along but I had seen that in the Caulfield Cup as well. When I went past him, I just wanted that post to come up.

“To pilot horses like Verry Elleegant each and every carnival is just a huge privilege and it worked out really well for us.”

Verry Elleegant has enjoyed some notable battles with William Haggas’ Addeybb over the last couple of years, with her Group One tally encompassing distances from seven furlongs to this two miles.

McDonald was happy to settle his mount in mid-division through the early stages as Incentivise raced in second through the majority of the race, but Verry Elleegant was clearly travelling well as the field turned for home.

Andrew Balding’s British raider Spanish Mission was perfectly placed to make his run down the middle of the track as Incentivise went for home, but Verry Elleegant was sat on his shoulder and when McDonald gave the signal, the response was immediate.

Verry Elleegant pulled clear in the final furlong, with Spanish Mission staying on all the way for Craig Williams but just failing to catch Incentivise for second by half a length. The ex-Richard Hannon inmate Floating Artist was fourth while Joseph O’Brien’s defending champion Twilight Payment finished 11th.

Waller watched the race with his family at home in Sydney and admitted it was a special moment to land his first Melbourne Cup.

“When she crossed the line, I was very emotional,” Waller said.

“I really wanted to be there to share it with the staff and those who have worked so hard, but to watch it with my family made it very, very special.”

Waller famously handled 25-times Group One winner and four-times Cox Plate champion Winx and he added: “It makes it pretty special to have another mare like this one. So brave, so determined and so good.

“We’ve had some great wins and important wins and this is certainly one of them.

“It’s the Melbourne Cup, so it’s very special and just the way she won it. She dropped on them and showed her class.

“She was the class of the race and she showed that with that finish that I’ll never forget.”

Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third
Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Jockey Craig Williams admitted Spanish Mission had been no match for the winner, but was delighted with his placed run.

He said: “Couldn’t have been any more impressed with his gallant performance. I had the option of being one horse in for the entire race but I decided to be on the back of Grand Promenade, I thought it would take me nicely into the race and we did. But when Verry Elleegant came around me, she was towing.

“My horse did a really good job and was fighting it out for second. Great job by Andrew Balding and his team for the planning and what a gallant warrior to go to battle with.”

Incentivise was sent off the shortest-priced favourite since Phar Lap in 1930 and his rider Brett Prebble said: “Courageous effort. His first time to this trip and it took a champion to beat him.”

Twilight Payment was a touch slow to break and jockey Jye McNeil said: “He wasn’t able to get into his usual role and at the halfway point he really struggled.”

Verry Elleegant claims Melbourne Cup glory

Verry Elleegant proved too strong for hot favourite Incentivise as she landed the Lexus Melbourne Cup in the hands of jockey James McDonald.

Trained by Chris Waller, the six-year-old mare improved on last year’s seventh place to come home a cosy winner in the two-mile contest.

Andrew Balding’s British runner Spanish Mission ran an admirable race to finish third in the Flemington feature.

The pre-race attention was focused on Incentivise, the Caulfield Cup winner who was unbeaten in his last nine races, and he was prominent from an early stage, racing wide from the start before moving up to sit in second after passing the post first time.

Persan set a reasonable gallop up front, with McDonald happy to settle in mid division through the first part of the race before taking up a position to challenge turning for home.

Spanish Mission was perfectly placed to make his run down the middle of the track as Incentivise went for home, but Verry Elleegant was sat on his shoulder and when McDonald gave the signal, the response was immediate.

Verry Elleegant fairly sprinted away in the final furlong to come home clear, with Spanish Mission staying on all the way for Craig Williams but just failing to catch Incentivise for second.

The winner was claiming a 10th Group One victory, with Waller and McDonald winning the Melbourne Cup for the first time.

Last year’s winner Twilight Payment failed to figure for trainer Joseph O’Brien.

McDonald was originally booked to ride Away He Goes for Ismail Mohammed, but after the British-trained runner suffered a setback last week, the rider switched to Verry Elleegant and he was thrilled to claim the Spring Carnival highlight.

“To pilot horses like Verry Elleegant each and every carnival is a huge privilege,” McDonald told www.racing.com.

“Today we are lucky enough to win a Melbourne Cup.

“I was booked for Away He Goes and sadly he went amiss. When one door closes another one opens.”

Waller was not on course as he remained in Sydney, but his representative Jo Taylor expressed the team’s delight at Verry Elleegant’s four-length verdict.

She said: “This is unreal, I think this is what everyone in Australian racing dreams of. It’s just such a pity Chris can’t be here, he certainly deserves this more than anyone.

“The entire team is very emotional and it means the world to us.”

Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third
Spanish Mission ran a fine race in third (Alan Crowhurs/PA)

Tony Noonan has been overseeing Spanish Mission’s preparations in Australia on Balding’s behalf and he reported the handler to be thrilled with the run, beaten just half a length by Incentivise.

He said: “Straight after the horse went over the line, I rang him (Balding) and he was ecstatic. It’s an enormous training performance – this horse hasn’t run for months.

“He sent him over a really fit horse and it’s just fantastic.

“He looks like he could go around again. He’s got an amazing aerobic capacity. His recovery from his work since he’s been here is just awesome. He’s a proper horse.”

Incentivise was sent off the shortest-priced favourite since Phar Lap in 1930 and while he ultimately fell short, trainer Peter Moody’s assistant Catherine Coleman was more than satisfied with his first try at two miles.

“He was absolutely super and we couldn’t be prouder of him. His first go at that trip carrying that weight, he has been absolutely phenomenal today,” Coleman said.

“Brett (Prebble) rode him to perfection today, he’s just run into an absolute champion in Verry Elleegant. She’s just a phenomenon this mare, and Chris has done such a wonderful job. We just take our hat off to her.”

Monday Musings: The New Phar Lap?

A lot of my friends are setting out today for the trip to the beautiful racecourse of Del Mar, just north of La Jolla (and Torrey Pines golf course) in Southern California, close to the wonderful City of San Diego, writes Tony Stafford.  That makes it not too far from the border with Mexico and Tijuana, where locals make their brass selling cheap religious items to unwitting tourists by the roadside.

Some of the above-mentioned pals, not just content with a week where the Turf Meets the Surf – Bing Crosby 1937 – will then tootle down the road to spend a second week at Palm Springs. Nice work? Hardly, if you can get it!

In recent years it has been possible to leave the US right after the two days of Breeders’ Cup excitement onto a flight that crossed the international dateline but arrived in Australia in time for “The Race That Stops the Nation” on the first Tuesday in November.

This time the Melbourne Cup will proceed without some of its usual adherents as it precedes its international counter-attraction. In 2020 it was staged with severe Covid-induced restrictions. Fourteen of the 24 runners started out in Europe, eight – including the winner, Twilight Payment – were still trained there when setting off for the always difficult journey and preparation.

Joseph O’Brien trained the winner and he will be back again, his now eight-year-old Australian-owned marvel this time as top-weight carrying around 9st2lb (58k), 6lb more than last year.

He shares second favouritism with the Andrew Balding-trained Spanish Mission, of whom there were serious doubts as to participation as the new veterinary rules flexed their theoretical muscles. He is safely in the list, but I would imagine the vets will have the same sort of scrutiny right up to the morning of the race that caused Hughie Morrison’s 2018 runner-up Marmelo to be being excluded from the 2019 renewal. Marmelo was strongly fancied having won the Doncaster Cup last time out but the local veterinarians differed with the opinion of the trainer and owners’ vets who consistently pronounced him sound.

Astonishingly, with half the 24-strong field for Tuesday - officially announced with draw yesterday - emanating from Europe, these two will be the sole European-trained contenders. Both have top form this year, Twilight Payment finishing second to Sonnyboyliston in the Irish St Leger and Spanish Mission running a close second to Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Stakes at York in August.

Nothing else is coming. No Aidan O’Brien, whose sadness at losing his 2019 Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck with fatal injury in last year’s contest might have swayed him against sending any of his better-class stayers at the end of an arduous campaign.

Another trainer persuaded by potential queries from the beefed-up vets’ panel to make an early decision against sending his best horse was Charlie Fellowes. His Prince Of Arran, an eight-year-old contemporary of Twilight Payment’s, had been third, second and third again in the last three Melbourne Cups.

The place money amassed from those heroic challenges exceeded £1.5 million towards Prince Of Arran’s career win and place earnings of just over £2 million. In retrospect, the decision, while probably agonising at the time, now looks fortuitous as on all this year’s form the gelding would have struggled to make an impact.

Last Monday when talking about Joseph O’Brien’s latest Australian exploit in winning the Cox Plate, I also referred to the previous winner of that prestigious weight-for-age race. That was the beaten 2019 Investec Derby favourite Sir Dragonet, third at Epsom behind ill-fated Anthony Van Dyck.

The colt had also been a creditable sixth in last year’s Melbourne Cup, just a few days on from his Cox Plate exploits. These excellent performances came from his new base at Warwick Farm, where he ran under the banner of the hirsute Ciaran Maher, one of the most successful of the domestic trainers over there.

At least Maher, who has four of the 24 in tomorrow’s field, has a British element to his stable which has three bases, two satellites apart from Warwick Farm.

Six years ago, a young Englishman, son of a long-standing and much respected Newmarket trainer, like so many before him, tried his luck in the Antipodes. So impressed was Maher in his young pupil’s diligence and innovation that in 2018 he added the name of David Eustace, son of James and brother of Harry who now runs the family stable back home, as joint-trainer.

That means we have an English trainer with four runners in the great race to add to Andrew Balding. Only the legendary Chris Waller, trainer of Winx but yet to win the Cup, matches their representation. Waller is less likely than Maher/Eustace to win as the partners’ Floating Artist (11-1) and Grand Promenade (14-1) are the next pair in the betting.

But this will be a Melbourne Cup with a couple of differences. For me, never getting there – that was always the province of fellow Telegraph man, “Aussie Jim” McGrath -  invariably meant staying up all night to see the show on telly.

On Tuesday when I went to Tatts Horses in Training sale watching the Australians make their ever-more expensive buys for next winter as they jousted with the Saudis for new middle-distance talent, I happened to run into John Berry.

He has been an integral and vital part of Melbourne Cup nights with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Australian and New Zealand form and I asked him if he was all set for Tuesday. A sad look came into that made for radio face – sorry John – as he related that the invitation always comes well in advance. As this October it hadn’t he feared he would, like me, watch it on the sofa.

Unless there was an oversight in the Sky Sports office, Newmarket’s former Mayor seems to have gone the way of so many other Sky staples – the latest being  Jeff Stelling who announced he will be going, too, at the end of the year. Can’t be much fun getting old, can it?

The other big difference of course, unless you haven’t heard of him, is a locally-trained five-year-old called Incentivise who until April 11 this year had the career record of three runs and no places, never mind wins.

He was a 17/1 chance for his fourth race but won that by three lengths and he went on to win another five races, all by wide margins in the next few weeks.

At season’s end it was decided that he needed to be moved to Melbourne as the Covid rules would have been complicated had he remained in his original base in Southern Queensland. He was transferred to top handler Peter Moody whose brief was to campaign him at the Melbourne Spring Festival.

The move also needed a new jockey for the same reason, and the gelding turned up with Brett Prebble at Flemington racecourse on September 11 for the Makybe Diva Stakes. This first Group 1 challenge commemorates Australia’s greatest staying racemare, the only triple winner of the Melbourne Cup. Her hat-trick was achieved between 2003 and 2005.

They made all the running, winning by half a length. Incentivise followed up in another Group 1 on October 2. Two weeks later he achieved what was by common consent from the experts and public alike, the most impressive performance in the Caulfield Cup in living memory.. He won that race by a very easy three lengths and few observers in Australia believe he can be beaten tomorrow. Nine wins in a row since April 11 yet still receiving 2lb from the top-weight? His price of 7-4 almost looks generous!

Australians hanker after another Phar Lap, the hero from the 1930’s who was their between-the-World Wars equivalent of Seabiscuit in the US. After their past-sell-by date cricketers’ performance in the World 20/20 group qualifying match against England, they could do with a modern-day hero, human or equine.

I confess I cannot see him beaten. As to the Breeders’ Cup it would be nice if James Fanshawe could repeat last year’s victory of Audarya and win a second Filly and Mare Turf at Del Mar. I have a friend who has an interest.

Siobhan Doolan, highly-talented horsewoman and grand-daughter of Wilf Storey, had earmarked a Fanshawe horse in last week’s sale, the yet to win but lightly-raced four-year-old gelding Going Underground. Like Incentivise he made a slow start to his career, not appearing until late on as a three-year-old in December last year. Sadly, there the similarity ends, but the young lady is very happy with her nice-moving purchase since getting him home.

Siobhan made a discovery about him. Whether it’s correct or not I will try to find out from the horse’s mouth but I won’t ask until next week as James never likes to talk about his horses before they run.

This is the question. Is it true that Going Underground was a galloping companion with Audarya this summer?  Should it be true it would be a nice thought that her £5k buy in a very tough market might have helped a horse win another Breeders’ Cup race. Siobhan will be preparing him in the mornings for his imminent campaign before settling down to her bloodstock insurance work. Good luck Shiv – and grandad of course!

  • TS

Spanish primed for Melbourne Cup Mission

Spanish Mission is expected to make a bold bid for Lexus Melbourne Cup glory by the team who have been overseeing his Australian preparations.

The five-year-old, who finished third in the Ascot Gold Cup and ran Stradivarius to a head in the Lonsdale Cup in August, is trained by Andrew Balding, but due to staff travel issues when the horse shipped, his lead up has been supervised by Tom Noonan and his father Tony.

Spanish Mission has not had a prep race in Australia, but Tom Noonan reports the son of Noble Mission to be in fine form, despite a late scare with a swollen leg that required a late veterinary check on Saturday.

Spanish Mission represents Andrew Balding
Spanish Mission represents Andrew Balding (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

He told www.racing.com: “It was, for us, a minor issue. We weren’t too concerned. Once we’d sorted out what the problem was and where it was stemming from, we were quite confident that we were going to get it under control.

“He definitely is a real athlete. He’s just a gentleman. For a six-year-old colt (in southern hemisphere) – it can be hard work sometimes dealing with colts – but his nature and temperament is world class.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honour to work with this horse and to work for Andrew.”

Local runner Incentivise is a short price to follow up his Caulfield Cup win at Flemington, but Noonan thinks Spanish Mission is the one to beat.

“I think he is. I think he is a true champion. He’s shown world class obviously,” said Noonan.

“I think it’s going to be a real interesting day. Incentivise is a fantastic horse and the horse to beat as well, but I think we’ll give him a run for his money.”

Joseph O’Brien is due to be at Flemington on Tuesday
Joseph O’Brien is due to be at Flemington on Tuesday (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

Joseph O’Brien could not be on course to see Twilight Payment give him a second Melbourne Cup win last year, following Rekindling in 2017, but a change to quarantine rules in Victoria in recent days means he will be on course to see his stable star’s defence of the title.

Mark Power has been managing Twilight Payment’s preparations at Werribee and he is delighted O’Brien will be able to be at Flemington this time.

He said: “Joseph is on the way and it’s great to have him over here. Just the way things have worked out with hotel quarantine enabled him to come over so it will be brilliant to see him after missing out last year.

Twilight Payment must shoulder top weight of 9st 2lb in the two-mile Group One – 6lb more than last year – but given his European form, including finishing second in the Irish St Leger last time out, the team were not surprised for his hefty burden.

Twilight Payment defends his Melbourne Cup title
Twilight Payment defends his Melbourne Cup title (PA)

Power said: “We’ve known that from last year after carrying 55.5 (kgs) last year and the way he’s run all summer at home that he was always going to get a boost in the weights.

“We think and we hope he can carry it anyway.

“It’s all gone really smoothly since he arrived here. We are really looking forward to it.”

Incentivise arrives unbeaten in his last nine starts, including three Group Ones since September in the Makybe Diva and Turnbull Stakes, plus the Caulfield Cup.

He is as short as 6-4 with some bookmakers as he moves up to two miles, but trainer Peter Moody is full of confidence in his charge.

“I’m not nervous, and once again, for the fact the horse has made it easy for me; he’s done everything asked of him,” he told his podcast, Moody On The Mic.

“I just hope he gets his chance, which his racing pattern tends to give him that chance.

“I believe if he holds that form, and what I’ve seen at home tells me he will hold his form, he should just about win the race.”

Other leading hopes include the ex-Richard Hannon-trained Floating Artist, top-class mare Verry Elleegant and Sir Lucan, who will be having his first start for Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott having previously been trained by Aidan O’Brien.

Spanish Mission cleared for Melbourne Cup run

Spanish Mission has been cleared to run in the Lexus Melbourne Cup and will start from stall 14 in Tuesday’s Flemington feature.

Andrew Balding’s British raider had to pass a late veterinary check on Saturday before being allowed to participate having been treated for swelling in one of his legs.

The Racing Victoria vets gave him the go-ahead to race and he will line up under Craig Williams in the Group One highlight as the general 6-1 second favourite behind home-trained runner Incentivise.

Peter Moody’s charge has won three Group One heats, including the Caulfield Cup, on his lead up to the race and his handler believes stall 16 is an “ideal” draw for Brett Prebble’s mount.

He told www.racing.com: “We’ll get a good run from there, he’s a roll-forward type of horse, when we have a look at the race, we’ll weigh it up what might happen tempo-wise.

“Probably just didn’t want to draw too low and have to dig up.”

Last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment is saddled with top weight and Joseph O’Brien’s charge will be in stall two of 24.

Chris Waller has elected to run star mare Verry Elleegant, who finished seventh in the race last year, and she was drawn in stall 19.

Other familiar names in the line up include Sir Lucan, a Navan Listed winner earlier in the year for Aidan O’Brien, who now represents Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott and ex-Richard Hannon runner Floating Artist, now with Ciaron Maher and David Eustace.

Spanish faces late vet check ahead of Melbourne Mission

Spanish Mission will undergo a late veterinary inspection on Saturday ahead of his planned run in Tuesday’s Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington.

Andrew Balding’s British raider was found to have swelling in a foreleg at his initial check on Thursday and the Racing Victoria vets were not completely satisfied after a further inspection on Friday.

Trainer Tony Noonan and his son Tom have overseen Spanish Mission’s preparation for Balding as the handler’s British staff were unable to make the trip due to travel difficulties.

Final acceptances for Tuesday’s Group One feature are taken on Saturday and Noonan is confident Spanish Mission will be given the go-ahead to run.

He told www.racing.com: “Unfortunately, he had a little bit of a fusion in the pastern yesterday afternoon.

“He’d obviously rolled and probably given the joint a bit of a knock.

“He was a sound horse this morning, presented well, worked under saddle without an issue.

“Racing Victoria vets had inspected him at midday and found that he just wasn’t as good as they would have liked at this point in time.

“We’ve trotted him up again since their departure without a sleeve, which they put on his pastern to monitor his action and without the sleeve there, his trotted out soundly again.

“I think he’s probably got an infection under the skin; our vets have looked at that.

“He’ll probably go on a course of antibiotics this afternoon and I’d expect improvement really quickly.”

Spanish Mission, winner of the Yorkshire Cup, was last seen being beaten a head by Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Cup at York in August.

He is as low as 9-2 with William Hill and Betfred for the race and Noonan does not think his supporters should be concerned.

He added: “I would think there’s no doubt (about his participation), at this point in time.

“He was a sound horse under saddle this morning, he’s been sound right through, so this has just come out of left field, which can happen with horses, but I think we’re pretty well on the target as far as what’s caused it, and once we treat him, I think we’ll get a really quick response.”

Setback scuppers Melbourne Cup bid for Away He Goes

Goodwood Cup runner-up Away He Goes has met with a late setback which will rule him out of the Melbourne Cup, leaving intended jockey James McDonald unlikely to have a ride.

The news is a blow to to connections having gone through the rigorous veterinary checks introduced ahead of this year’s Spring Carnival for overseas runners.

Ismail Mohammed’s five-year-old, who was last seen finishing seventh in the Ebor, is reported to have suffered a tendon injury.

Crack jockey McDonald had been booked and it was a second big blow for him having also seen his Cox Plate mount, Zaaki, ruled out on the morning of the race.

“I rocked up at Werribee and I walked over to his box and they gave me the bad news,” McDonald told www.racing.com.

“The horse actually looked absolutely glowing in the past, but unfortunately, he had a sore leg.

“It’s just another one that’s gone amiss before a big day.

“As they say, that’s racing.

“They’re highly tuned athletes that are trained to the absolute peak condition, and anything can happen with them.”

Spanish Mission delighting Balding in Melbourne Cup prep

Andrew Balding is counting down the days until Spanish Mission’s bid for glory in the Melbourne Cup.

The five-year-old has already proven himself a top-class stayer in Europe – winning last season’s Doncaster Cup and the Yorkshire Cup this term.

On his last couple of starts, Spanish Mission has finished third in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and a head second to Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Cup at York.

After receiving the data from his latest workout on Friday morning, Balding is confident his charge is at the top of his game for ‘the race that stops a nation’ on November 2.

“He worked this morning at Werribee, and with the wonderful modern technology we were able to map his work,” the trainer told Sky Sports Racing.

“We were able to get the splits and the heart-rate and his stride length etc, and it matched up pretty well with what we would have been expecting in his homework here at Kingsclere.

“He seems to be in great form – everyone is thrilled with him.”

Craig Williams (second left) will ride Spanish Mission
Craig Williams (second left) will ride Spanish Mission (Tony Harris/PA)

In an apparent boost to Spanish Mission’s chances, connections have booked the services of leading Australian jockey Craig Williams, who won the 2019 Melbourne Cup aboard Vow and Declare.

Balding added: “Craig has obviously won the race before – he’s hugely experienced and still riding at the top of his game, so we’re thrilled to have him.

“It’s a big deal, and come next week we’ll be getting pretty excited about it.

“I don’t want to tempt fate, because we’ve still got 10 days to go and anything can go wrong – but so far, so good.”

Spanish Mission to miss Caulfield Cup

Spanish Mission’s departure to Australia has been delayed and he will now miss his intended start in next month’s Caulfield Cup.

The five-year-old was due to fly this weekend with the first shipment of Spring Carnival challengers, but after suffering with muscle spasms while exercising in quarantine in Newmarket, he will not leave as planned.

Andrew Balding’s charge, who was last seen finishing a narrow second to Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Cup at York, is now due to travel early next month, but new rules mean he will not be allowed to contest the Caulfield Cup and will instead chart a direct route to the Melbourne Cup instead.

A statement from Racing Victoria said: “UK trainer Andrew Balding has advised Racing Victoria (RV) that Spanish Mission will no longer fly to Melbourne this weekend and will instead arrive on Saturday, October 9 with a second shipment of international entrants for the Spring Racing Carnival.

“The change in travel plans means that Spanish Mission will no longer contest the $5 million Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup on October 16 and will exclusively target the Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington on November 2.

“Balding advised RV that Spanish Mission had incurred a slight setback (muscle spasms in his flanks) following exercise whilst in Pre-Export Quarantine (PEQ) in Newmarket and had missed some ridden exercise as a result.

“The stable has elected to take a cautious approach with the horse upon his return to ridden exercise today and have thus deferred their travel to the second shipment.”

Murtagh rules out Melbourne Cup run for Sonnyboyliston

Johnny Murtagh has confirmed his Ebor and Irish St Leger hero Sonnyboyliston will not travel to Australia for this year’s Melbourne Cup.

Just three weeks on from his lucrative success at York, the four-year-old provided the legendary jockey with his first Classic success as a trainer when getting the better of Twilight Payment in a thrilling finish at the Curragh on Sunday.

Murtagh admits the Melbourne Cup is a big draw, but feels his stable star has done enough for this season.

He told www.racing.com: “I spoke to the owners the other day and the horse has come out of the race really, really well.

“But to be fair to him, he’s run in the Ebor and ran in a grueller here at the Curragh – a very strongly run race over a mile and six. It was a titanic battle with him and Twilight Payment and he came out on top.

“He’s been on the go for a long time and hasn’t let us down all year. I feel it’s time for him to have a little break now.

“He’s only four and is one of the top stayers in Europe at the moment. Stradivarius isn’t getting any younger.

“The Melbourne Cup was in the back of our minds, but it wasn’t the plan – and to go over there and take on the best in Australia, the Melbourne Cup has to be the number one target.”

Johnny Murtagh celebrates after Sonnyboyliston's victory in the Ebor at York
Johnny Murtagh celebrates after Sonnyboyliston’s victory in the Ebor at York (Nigel French/PA)

Murtagh revealed Australian-based owners have been in touch with a view to purchasing Sonnyboyliston from the Kildare Racing Club.

But with increased measures in place for horses travelling Down Under, connections are keeping hold of the gelding for the time being.

“It’s very difficult to get down there full stop,” Murtagh added.

“It’s hard to get people there with the Covid restrictions. It’s hard to get down there as a trainer and enjoy the whole build-up and everything that goes with the Carnival.

“We’ve had a few offers. There were a few offers before the Ebor and there were a few offers after the Ebor.

“But everyone was saying ‘get him in the bone scan’ and ‘we don’t want to buy him unless he can come down here and run in the race’.

“He passed the vetting for Hong Kong last year, which is pretty severe, and it was just at the last minute that the guys decided to keep him and run him as a four-year-old, which was good for us.

“He’s a pretty sound horse, but he’s had a hard season and I just didn’t fancy putting him through all that at this point of the year.”

Sonnyboyliston team waiting on next move

Ebor winner Sonnyboyliston has come out of his York exertions well, but where he runs next is still to be decided.

The plan had been to take him to Australia for the Melbourne Cup, but trainer Johnny Murtagh mooted a possible tilt at the Irish St Leger on September 12 in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s race.

“He’s in good shape. He came out of it well,” said Murtagh, who was winning the Ebor for a second time after Mutual Regard in 2014.

“I spoke to the owners the other day. They’re getting together, and they’re going to make a plan of attack.

“But he’s got home in one piece. He’s good – he’s a little bit tired, as you would imagine.

“But I put him out in the paddock this morning, (and) he seems pretty happy with himself.

“We’re just waiting with the boys to see what they think. I told them what I thought.”

Great Voltigeur among options for Lone Eagle

The Great Voltigeur Stakes at York is among the options under consideration for Martyn Meade’s star colt Lone Eagle.

Narrowly beaten by Hurricane Lane in the Irish Derby on his penultimate start, the son of Galileo was then last of five runners behind Epsom hero Adayar in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Lone Eagle, who is owned in partnership by Ballylinch Stud and Australian-based Aquis Farm, last week received a surprise entry in the Melbourne Cup, but Meade considers a trip Down Under a “long shot” at this stage.

“He’s just having a bit of a quiet time at the moment, so we’ve got no plans right now,” said the Manton-based trainer.

“It (Melbourne Cup) is a bit of a long shot, I would say. The part-owners are from Australia and obviously he’s got every right to be considered for that, but it’s fair to say it’s a long shot.”

Lone Eagle also has plenty of big-race engagements in Britain, with the Great Voltigeur on August 18 the most imminent.

Meade added: “We’re certainly looking at that (Great Voltigeur), for sure.”

September outing crucial to future plans for Prince Of Arran

Prince Of Arran faces a “proper D-Day” assignment at Kempton next month as his trainer Charlie Fellowes ponders a fourth bid to win the Melbourne Cup.

Fellowes will be prepared to send the eight-year-old to Australia again, despite the new veterinary regulations which appear to have dissuaded many top European trainers from considering the long journey this year.

But before sanctioning the inevitable high costs for a venture which has previously resulted in two third places and a runner-up spot – promoted from third – over the last three years at Flemington, the Newmarket trainer needs to see evidence in the September Stakes that “the real Prince Of Arran” is back.

Fellowes reports Prince Of Arran has not shown anything like the necessary form since finishing third in the Cup in 2020, at home or in three starts on the track, to warrant an attempt to add to his famous big-race record in November.

Unlike other high-profile trainers – such as Aidan O’Brien and former winner Charlie Appleby – Fellowes has nominated to run again at this stage, as one of 15 possible British or Irish participants.

They include Joseph O’Brien’s 2020 winner Twilight Payment and Martyn Meade’s Irish Derby runner-up Lone Eagle.

The consensus is that enhanced veterinary checks on overseas challenges – resulting from an inquiry, following the death of Ballydoyle’s Anthony Van Dyck in last year’s race – have dissuaded many from making the expensive journey.

Fellowes acknowledges that factor, but will make an exception for Prince Of Arran – if he returns to form at Kempton.

He said: “I am (put off by the new regulations) – and I think if I had a horse that had never been over there, but I thought would suit the race, I wouldn’t have nominated.

“But at the end of the day, I have to do what is right by the owners and the horse. He has a very good record in Australia, and we’re not racing for peanuts down there. We’re racing for very, very good prize-money – more than he could win staying up here.

“So I think it’s only right that we enter and then see.

“If I had an unproven horse in Australia, I wouldn’t be doing it, I wouldn’t be going down (because of the new regulations) – but just because I’ve got a horse that absolutely loves it over there, it makes sense to have a go.”

Fellowes warns nonetheless, that unless he improves on his current form, Prince Of Arran will not be embarking again on a trip which – as well as his Melbourne Cup heroics – has previously also yielded a 2019 victory in the Geelong Cup and success in the Lexus Stakes a year earlier.

He said: “I’m not going to send him down if I don’t think he can go and run as well as he has in previous years. If we’re going down there, we’re going to go to win – we’re not going down there to throw a dart at the board.

“I think September Stakes is D-Day, proper D-Day – because I think, if he doesn’t fire at Kempton, I’d probably suggest that we’ll be looking at retirement full stop.

“The facts are that he is not in good enough form at the moment to warrant a trip to Australia – and he’s going to have to prove his well-being up here before I even think about sending him on a plane down there.”

Martyn Meade's Lone Eagle is among the 15 British and Irish-trained horses who have been nominated for this year's Melbourne Cup
Martyn Meade’s Lone Eagle is among the 15 British and Irish-trained horses who have been nominated for this year’s Melbourne Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Prince Of Arran has finished an honourable third in the Group Three September Stakes for the past two years, before heading to Australia.

Fellowes added: “The plan is to run in the September Stakes at Kempton – which is his usual prep race – and that will tell us what sort of form he’s in.

“Twelve furlongs is short of his best, but he absolutely loves Kempton. If he can run a nice race there, then we’ll seriously consider going into quarantine for Australia.”

The alternative is likely to be the end of a remarkable career which has yielded six victories, a string of admirable efforts in defeat and racked up many thousands of air miles.

“He owes us nothing more,” said Fellowes.

“He came back from Australia last year a very different horse to previous years. He ran in the Caulfield Cup and then the Melbourne Cup – he was bitterly unlucky in both races, and had very hard races in the process, and I think it really took its toll mentally.

“That’s why we’ve really taken our time (since) – I’ve barely raced him. I felt he was lacklustre both at Kempton, then Saudi, and I suppose Ascot (fifth in the Sagaro Stakes) as well.

“He just doesn’t look his usual self.

“If the real Prince Of Arran doesn’t turn up at Kempton in the September Stakes, then I think a horse who owes us nothing, has won £2million in prize money and been an absolute star … if he’s had enough, he’s had enough.

“The problem is the costs involved of going down there are so high you couldn’t send a horse that wasn’t absolutely flying and just roll the dice because he’s got a good record in Australia.

“He has a good record at Ascot; he has a good record at Kempton – and he hasn’t fired there this year. So why on earth (in his current form) would he go down to Australia and fire down there?

“It’s not fair on the owners who have trusted me with this horse for eight years and who have been amazing, and it’s not fair on the horse.”

Fellowes fears Melbourne Cup changes may rule out European challenge

Charlie Fellowes believes the changes to Melbourne Cup qualification criteria will make it “nigh on impossible” for European-trained horses to compete in Australia’s greatest race.

A series of new measures are to be brought in to combat what officials felt was an unacceptable rate of injuries and fatalities – mainly to overseas contenders.

The number of international horses permitted  at the Werribee International Quarantine Centre will be limited to 24 – down from 42 in 2018 – and those horses will be allowed just one run in Australia before their Cup challenge.

They will also have to undergo a series of tests before travelling, at their owners’ expense, have tests once they arrive in Australia and comply with pre-race checks while in quarantine.

Prince Of Arran has taken Fellowes all around the world
Prince Of Arran has taken Fellowes all around the world (Mathea Kelley/JCSA)

Any horse who has suffered a previous fracture will be denied the opportunity, as will those who have undergone orthopaedic surgery.

Fellowes has enjoyed great success with Prince Of Arran in Australia, who has been placed in the race three times as well as winning the Lexus Stakes and the Geelong Cup.

He said: “I completely understand that changes had to be made. I get that this wonderful race is under pressure from animal welfare groups, which I have seen at first hand on my trips.

“Yes it is a minority, but we see them when we do the parade and something had to be done. For that, I feel very sorry for the RV (Racing Victoria) and the organisers because they’ve been put between a rock and a hard place.

“However, I feel they have been brutally unlucky and I worry that the measures outlined in the report that European-trained horses are going to have to pass are basically impossible.

“There are a few parts in the report that actually don’t make sense, and I feel incredibly sad that it will now be nigh on impossible to take a horse down there – and I have loved every minute of my trips to Australia.”

Fellowes fears it could have a major impact on the number of horses leaving the UK to race permanently in Australia, too.

He added: “I think it is potentially disastrous for European trainers, because any horse deemed good enough to run in the Melbourne Cup will now be realistically moved to Australia to race – where they will not have to go through the same veterinary checks that they will if the same horse is with a European trainer.

“So, it will result in us losing more horses. John Gosden’s comments recently of Britain turning into a nursery for other racing jurisdictions rings even truer this morning – and I think it is a very sad day.

“It really is the most wonderful race and it is incredibly sad what has happened. I believe there are other changes which could have been made that haven’t, that wouldn’t have restricted Europeans going there and would have helped prevent further injuries from happening.

“Look at Royal Ascot this year without the Australian sprinters. When they come they add so much to the meeting – and when they don’t it is to the detriment of Royal Ascot. That is why Ascot have a team who go around the world trying to get them to come and race in England, which is welcomed.

“It is very sad that it will not be happening to the Melbourne Cup.”

Joseph O’Brien strikes Melbourne gold again with Twilight Payment

Joseph O’Brien once again denied his father Aidan in the Lexus Melbourne Cup as Twilight Payment made all to lift the Group One contest at Flemington.

The trainer registered his first win when Rekindling held off O’Brien snr’s Johannes Vermeer by half a length in 2017, and the distance was the same this time around as Tiger Moth just failed to reel in the Jye McNeil-ridden winner.

Charlie Fellowes’ British raider Prince Of Arran, placed in the last two Melbourne Cups, came agonisingly close to victory once again, finishing with purpose to be beaten a head in third in a race that was marred by the death of last year’s Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, who was euthanised after fracturing a fetlock.

Of beating his father once again in the Australian event, O’Brien told Sky Sports Racing: “We both realise how hard it is to win on the world stage in these big, big races, but I am very lucky that I have been able to win a couple of big races.

“Dad has been very lucky, he has won a lot of big races, I’d be delighted for him if he had won, and I’m sure he is for me having won. We do our best on the track and whatever happens out there happens.

“I was really too nervous to see what was going to happen. I was hardly able to watch, but it was a fantastic ride by Jye and a fantastic effort by all the lads with the horse.”

McNeil executed a perfect front-running ride, with the field well strung out on the home turn before Twilight Payment, who was previously trained by Jim Bolger and finished 11th in the race last year, kept finding for pressure in the finish.

McNeil told www.racing.com: “I encouraged him (Twilight Payment) to go forward, because that was the plan. Then he just found such a lovely tempo at the top. It was just a matter of amping the rhythm up at just the right stage and I am glad it all worked out.

“Joseph wanted me to be a step ahead of the field and really get them chasing. What he lacks in class, he makes up in his staying ability.

“I’m peaking on my run 200m out. I’m using all of my might not to use too many whips, very vocal, trying to encourage him.

“It was very surreal crossing the line in front. I’ve got goosebumps from then and they’re still here now.”

O’Brien added: “Jye gave the horse a fantastic ride. Credit goes to the lads who have looked after Twilight Payment for the last month or so. They’ve done a fantastic job with the horses down there.”

Kerrin McEvoy was thrilled with Tiger Moth’s effort in second, beaten half a length, on what was only his fifth career start, but there was a sting in the tail for the rider, who was fined $50,000 and banned for 13 meetings for misusing his whip.

McEvoy pleaded guilty to the charge after it was found he hit Moth 13 times before the 100-metre (half-furlong) mark and 21 times in total. He is not permitted to strike his mount more than five times before the 100-metre mark.

Tiger Moth finished second for Aidan O'Brien
Tiger Moth finished second for Aidan O’Brien (PA)

McEvoy said: “It was a great run for a young horse having only his fifth start in a race. He’s run really well.”

Fellowes and rider Jamie Kah were ruing their luck after Prince Of Arran endured a troubled passage at the top of the straight, before flying home to claim third, adding to his second of last year and third in 2018.

The Newmarket handler said: “He’s a remarkable horse. He’s done everything right and if he had enjoyed a bit more luck, he could well have gone even closer.

“He was just very unlucky on the home bend. Jamie had him in a perfect position, she got him into a good rhythm and then he couldn’t find a run, which we knew was a risk from his draw, but he’s run a great race.

“Take nothing away from the winner though – Jye McNeil gave him a brilliant and brave ride from the front and he got his fractions absolutely spot on. The best horse won on the day.”

Prince Of Arran is now likely to head to the Saudi Cup meeting at Riyadh in February, with Fellowes not planning too far ahead with his stable star.

He added: “I just felt this year was his year. He had a perfect preparation and it looked a winnable race, but we just needed a bit more luck.

Prince Of Arran was placed once again
Prince Of Arran was placed once again (Graham Clark/PA)

“We will get him home and see how he is, but Saudi Arabia would likely be the next stop.

“We will just take it one race at a time with him. He’s a seven-year-old and while he does save a bit for himself, which perhaps could give him a longer shelf life at that top level, if ever we were worried about him, either in preparation or after a race, we wouldn’t take any chances.

“He’s an amazing horse and owes us nothing.”